Karl Kasperson could never have imagined that, even a decade after his passing, his music would be the subject of a headline concert event.
It would have been a surprise, no doubt, because at the time of his unexpected death at the age of 59, Kasperson had not recorded a single song.
Kasperson, a third generation Bainbridge Islander, was a well-known figure in the community. He owned and operated the Bainbridge Island Lumber Store until 1987. And he was the kind of unique and life-affirming American character whose generous nature, room-filling laugh, love for life and general quirkiness made him a community staple.
“My dad was kind of the John Belushi of Lynwood Center,” recalled his son Leif Kasperson. “He was this big funny guy always doing crazy stuff.”
Kasperson’s exploits are well-documented. He established an archery range that ran the length of his store’s paint aisle, and he would often initiate games of street tennis and the occasional bottle rocket war.
He would even, on occasion, leave the store unattended to pursue his other love: fishing. Customers would find a sign on the door that read, “Gone Fishing. Take what you want. I’ll bill you later.”
Everyone knew that Karl Kasperson knew how to have fun. But what many people did not know about Kasperson was that he was a talented songwriter.
According to the official story behind the upcoming tribute, written by Leif and currently posted on the Treehouse Café website, after retiring “he especially enjoyed making up his own songs and lyrics. Every week, for weeks on end, when Karl was supposed to be taking ‘guitar lessons,’ he would instead bring his tunes in to Robin Kutz in order to have them put into musical notation. This was done by having Karl sing or whistle the melodies and Robin figuring out, or trying to figure out, what the notes actually were.”
It was a side of himself he downplayed, even to his own family. It wasn’t until years after his passing that his children discovered their father’s music, hidden away in a plain black bag in his bedroom.
He had written more than 80 songs.
“I knew he wrote a little bit,” Leif Kasperson said. “I didn’t know he was so into it, though.”
Ultimately it was the work of long-time friend and music instructor Robin Kutz that made the revival and tribute possible.
“Robin always told my Dad that they were good songs,” Kasperson said. “He orchestrated the music part of the whole thing, he saw the greatness of the songs.”
“I had given both of his sons guitar lessons,” Kutz remembered. “Then Karl called me up and he wanted guitar lessons.”
“I think the lessons part of it all lasted about a week. After that he kept coming in every week with his own tunes. All of the songs were pretty good, very sound musically and lent themselves well to treatment.”
Despite the encouragement, the songwriting fisherman never did follow through in getting his music to a wider audience.
“It was such a huge undertaking,” Kutz said of the recording process, “I think he probably just didn’t know where to begin.”
“I think the music was a personal thing for him,” Leif Kasperson said of his father’s reluctance to showcase his talent. “He wasn’t sure how people would take them. He would play funny songs for people all the time, but that’s about it.”
Whatever the reason, it would be many years before Kasperson’s music would make the trip from that plain black bag to the stage.
Now, through the work of Kutz and several other Bainbridge musicians, the music of Karl Kasperson is finally reaching the audience it deserves and will be the subject of live tribute at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Treehouse Café.
The band consists of Neal Komedal singing lead vocals, Robin Kutz on lead guitar, Tom Svornich on drums and Leif Kasperson on rhythm guitar. Also, making a special appearance on reeds, is John Draper of “The New Deal Rhythm Band.”
“I just trusted Robin to know what was good and what would work,” Leif Kasperson said. “It’s been a really fun thing to do.”
He described his father’s music as “mostly country swing” with a “rustic feel,” although there were also ballads, polkas and even waltzes within the catalogue of tunes.
The songs performed in the tribute will be available on CD at the show, and the complete version of “Whiskey Raindrops” can now be downloaded on iTunes and CD Baby, including songs like “Liechtenstein Polka,” “Karl’s Tractor” and “Last Tango in Lynwood.”
Considering how reluctant Kasperson was to share his music during his life, one must wonder how he would feel about the show and the treatment of his songs.
“I think he would have loved it,” his son said. “Absolutely, he would have loved it.”
“It was a real thrill,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like work. These songs, once you start to dig away at them, all kinds of ideas begin to appear.”
Tickets are available online or in person though the Treehouse Café (http://treehousebainbridge.com/); admission is $10 per person. The Café is located at 4569 Lynwood Center Road NE.